At the first sign of warm weather, most motorcyclists will haul out their bike and get it on the road as fast as possible. However, if your bike spent the entire winter alone in the garage without any maintenance, your bike is not just filthy, it’s in need of some serious TLC.
Sure, you probably planned on caring for it during the winter, but since you didn’t, now the damage has been done. By following this spring motorcycle maintenance checklist, you can give your bike a thorough once over and the proper care to ensure it’s ready for the road in no time.
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Table of Contents
Why You Can’t Just Head Out for a Quick Ride
You’re not going that far, so why can’t you just take the bike out for a quick spin? Many riders are guilty of going out for a ride the minute they see blue skies and the temperature becomes bearable again.
But if you didn’t properly prepare your bike for the winter months, then you may end up riding with stale fuel, low fluid levels, brakes that need to be replaced, or a battery that will up and quit on you. Taking an afternoon to get your bike back in riding condition can save you a lot of time and hassle, especially if you have an older bike. This guide will go over all of the steps you need to follow in order to get your bike back into shape and out on the road in no time.
The first step is checking out the battery. When you disconnect the battery, make sure you take off the negative side first, then take off the positive side. Doing so will prevent creating a spark.
An internal combustion engine will require a few things in order to run; fuel, a spark, and compression. If your bike was running well before you stored it for the winter, your compression should be up to snuff. If you have any doubt you can always do a compression test before you move onto the next step.
Next, top off the battery using some distilled water, then charge it before you try to fire up your bike.
Now, it’s time for some carb care. Find the carb’s drain screw and draw any fuel, which is probably stale by now.
Before the bike’s ignition system is able to generate a spark, you must determine the condition of the battery. Look at the casing and search for any signs of damage. If the case is leaking or cracked around the terminals then you’ll need to replace it.
If it has a clear case made out of plastic, then you should be able to get a general idea of its condition by simply examining the plates. If they look contaminated by crystal-looking deposits that are gray, or they look buckled, then the battery will need to be replaced.
Also, take a look at the battery’s electrolyte level. If the level is low then it should be topped off with distilled water. Never use tap water since it contains certain minerals that can shorten the life of the battery.
Avoid adding acid. Make sure that the battery’s terminals are in good shape. If any corrosion has formed, you can remove it using a solution of fifty-fifty baking soda and distilled water, with the help of a stiff brush.
The battery case and top should also be cleaned with a mild detergent and cool water. This will remove any grease or road grime. Before you reinstall the battery, make sure it’s fully charged. You can use any type of battery charger, just as long as you avoid charging your battery longer than 1/10th of the rated amp-hour value.
If the bike runs on a conventional battery, then you can assume it’s fully charged once the hydrometer test displays a specific gravity of 1.26 at eighty degrees Fahrenheit. You can only test a battery that’s maintenance-free using a voltmeter.
Usually, this type of battery will show thirteen volts when it’s fully charged. Before you replace the battery, be sure and give it one last rinse with cold water in order to get rid of any acid that may have come out during the charging process.
Next, install the positive side of the battery first, then install the ground. At this time, give these cables a light coat of petroleum jelly or dielectric grease to prevent corrosion. Last of all, take a look at the vent line and ensure it’s routed well away from any chrome and the chain is unobstructed.
Take a look at the air filter and check for debris. If the filter looks clean then it’s good to go. Since an air filter makes a perfect spot for small critters hiding in the winter, make sure you give the filter box a close inspection. If you see any signs that the filter has been made into a home by creatures, then clean out the area thoroughly and replace the filter.
Spark plugs will not deteriorate when a bike sits. However, high-mileage worn plugs, or spark plugs that are carbon fouled from slow speed riding or plenty of short strips, will cause hard starting. Spark plugs are reasonably priced, so I recommend checking them out and cleaning them or replacing them before you take your bike out.
Stale gas can cause all kinds of problems. If gas is allowed to sit for too long, the lighter portion will evaporate, leaving behind a substance that’s almost varnish-like. This substance will plug up the car’s passageways and jets.
While modern gas tends to store better than the mixes of the past if the gas is more than three months old then I recommend you drain it from the carb before you attempt to start your bike. Dispose of the old gas properly. At this time, it would be smart to clean any petcock screens and replace any fuel filters.
Now is the time to change your bike’s oil and filter. If you normally take your bike to a local mechanic for this task, but you want to try your hand at doing this type of routine bike maintenance on your own, then click here to read my article on how to change the oil in your motorcycle.
Over the winter months, the tires will usually lose some air pressure. Air up the tires and check them out for any signs of wear or damage before you hit the road. If the tire needs to be replaced, click here to read my article on how to change and balance a motorcycle tire.
Just a quick look should tell you whether or not the brakes have any power left in them.
Take a look at the chain and adjust it as needed. It should also be cleaned and lubed at this time. If you notice any signs of damage or wear, then the chain will need to be replaced. To learn more, stop by and read my step-by-step guide on how to change a motorcycle chain.
Make sure you take the time to check all of the fluid levels. If any fluid looks murky, or you can’t remember when the last time any of the fluids have been changed, now is the time to do it. This can mean checking the brake fluid, antifreeze, rear-drive and primary case oil levels, and transmission fluid.
Most cables will develop some slack over time. In fact, it happens so gradually that you may not even be aware that they’ve gone out of adjustment. Be sure to check every cable and adjust them correctly before you get back out on the road. You should also lubricate the cables.
Take a look at the chassis. Look at the hardware and tighten and bolts and nuts as needed. In most cases, this type of hardware will need just a half-twist with a wrench. Check all of the lights and replace blown bulbs.
Take a look at the brake pads, brake fluid, and brake lines before you go for your first ride. Any cracked lines or worn pads will need to be replaced. You should also test out the rear and front brakes separately to ensure that they’re in decent working order and free from squealing and scraping.
Make sure you give your bike a bath and dry it off completely once you take it out of storage. Make sure you closely inspect the bike for any signs of damage once again, since some damage may have been hidden under dirt, dust, or debris.
Firing it Up
If you haven’t been on your bike in weeks, then go slow on your first ride. Try riding it around the neighborhood before a longer ride. Do this to ensure it’s in proper working order, so you don’t end up far from home with a broken-down bike. Before you ride, give your full-face helmet, jacket, and other riding gear a once over before use as well.
If your bike has a belt drive, look for stray cords, wear, or cracks. If the belt has any teeth that are chunked out, if you see any signs of damage, be sure to replace it. Most drive belts will last for a long time, however, you’ll want to replace one long before it’s barely holding on.
A failed belt will leave you stranded, and it also tends to snap under acceleration, so this issue, if left untreated, can be very dangerous. If the belt looks okay, check the bike’s service manual for any specs and check the belt’s tension using a gauge.
Buying a gauge is well worth the investment since you won’t have to run your bike down to your local mechanic to check this out. After you’ve made the necessary adjustments, make sure you use the gauge and double-check it.
Check out your throttle and clutch for adjustment and smooth operation. Use cable lube to unstick your throttle and clutch cables. Adjust your pull and push cables until you feel a little slack before the throttle starts to open.
If your sticky throttle or hard clutch pull cannot be adjusted out or lubricated away, then be on the lookout for any interference on the throttle tube or lever. This issue can also be caused by improper cable routing. If the cables are showing signs of wear and tear then replace them.
Now is the time to take out your torque wrench and make sure you hit every critical fastener including motor mounts, adjusters, axle bolts, triple clamps, and the handlebars. Make sure you once again take a look at the coolant and oil levels and go back through every feature you worked on during your inspection in order to verify that everything has been put back where it should be and tightened.
Take out a tire gauge and make sure both tires have the proper PSI level. If your battery has been charging during this time, now is the time to test out the horn and lights.
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Many riders get excited at the first sign of spring and are too eager to get their bike back on the road. But if you don’t want to end up being stranded on the side of the road, inspect your bike and follow the proper steps to get your bike back to its former road-worthy condition.
This spring motorcycle maintenance checklist includes all the important maintenance tasks that are needed to ensure your bike is road-ready and safe to use. Some of these maintenance tasks are easier to do than others, so, if you’re not feeling confident in your inspection skills, have a friend or family member with more riding experience go over the bike with you. Ensuring your bike is ready for the road after being stored for several months will prevent any issues or a potential accident the first time you’re back on the road.